Sound Track (online edition): The kids are alright

They rock. They wail through the classics (“All Along the Watchtower,” “Little Wing”). They crush the drums, exorcise demons from their guitars, deliver blistering vocals and thumping bass riffs. They have 10 o’clock curfews and need to get a ride from dad because they’re not yet old enough for even a learner’s permit.

Yes, Asheville is home not just to a thriving music scene, but a handful of kid-fueled rock bands are (despite being too young to play bars)  giving their more seasoned counterparts a run for the money.

From the opening notes of “The Thrill is Gone,” Skinny Legs and All (formerly “Another Roadside Attraction” after that other Tom Robbins classic) reveals a maturity far beyond its years. The band’s members (pictured here) range in age from 12 to 17, but lead singer Jesse Barry (age 15) sets the tone with vocals deserving comparison to Janis Joplin. Her voice is far richer and larger than seems fitting for her rail-thin frame.

Similarly, 17-year-old Paul Chelmis’ groovy, ‘70s-influenced mastery of the keys bespeaks years of commitment to his instrument. And it’s not just that these teens sound good on recording (that’s not so tricky). I happened across their set at the Asheville Jewish Community Center’s 4th of July pool party this year and was instantly impressed.

At age 12, Avi Goldstein infuses his bass lines with funk prowess, Colin Hanson (14) provides a steadfast beat, and 15-year-old guitarist Patrick Cassidy lends plenty of finesse to his solos. And they seem to get the music they’re covering, though most of the songs outdate not only the band, but likely their parents as well. We’re talking Hendrix here, and the Funky Meters. Not sounds in which today’s average teen is seeped.

Sure, Skinny Legs and All evokes age-related comments, but they play with a self-assuredness, meticulousness and skill often only aspired to by of-age performers. Seriously. If these kids keep up the regular practice and avoid the temptations that all too often distract the artistically talented, their success should be a sure bet. Skinny Legs and All performs at the Flat Rock Music Festival on Saturday, Sept. 27, at 8 p.m.

Black Jack formed two years ago when three of group’s now four members teamed up for a talent show. At their elementary school. The Henderson County boys, ages 11 and 12, are too young for a MySpace page but their fairly slick Web site offers sound bites of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.” They play the Blue Ridge Performing Arts Center on Friday, June 25, at 8 p.m. $8 advance/ $10 day of show.

The last session of Rock Band Camp takes place at Asheville Arts Center from Monday, July 28, through Friday, Aug. 1, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily for kids age 10 to 18. For $275, budding rock stars can hone their skills on guitar, bass, drums, keys and vocals. The culmination of Rock Band Camp (aka School of Rock or Rock U) is a full-fledged band. Check out Rock U’s set at the free Pigeons of the Park concert, an all-ages, rain-or-shine, music and arts event at Pritchard Park on Saturday, Aug. 9, from 6 to 9 p.m.

—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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